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Gallery Judgments: “He Wavered Me,” a Citizen Says of a Senator

October 15, 1991

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Bill and Phyllis Phalen of Omaha, Neb., drove 1,300 miles across America in its autumn beauty last weekend, punching the buttons on their car radio, listening to the hearings.

The Phalens came to attend a Pentagon ceremony where son Tom was promoted to Air Force colonel. From there - they couldn’t resist - they went to the Capitol Tuesday to witness the debate. Tom, silver eagle insignia proudly perched on his shoulders, joined them.

The Phalens - and like them, Jack and Leone Kendrick of Lake Arrowhead, Calif.; Franklin and Mary Long of Tucson, Ariz.; Zygmunt and Marianne Stachon of Fremont, Calif. - were fascinated, uncertain, appalled at what had absorbed America for the past week.

They were in Washington at a historic time, while the rest of the country could only watch.

In a Capitol corridor, these tourists said the country had changed as a result of the Senate hearings at which a young woman said her boss had terrorized her with vile language.

But some good might come of it, they said. It made them think about sexual harassment.

The men tended more than their wives to think of it as an eye-of-the- beholder phenomenon.

″I’ve been harassed at work,″ said Mrs. Kendrick. ″Many things go on you just don’t challenge. You just don’t dare speak out.″

″But what’s harassment?″ asked her husband, turning to his wife, putting his arm on her shoulder, playfully flirting. ″I go up to you and say, ‘Hey, you’re in beautiful shape’ - that’s harassment. I say, ‘Hey, you look great today’ - that’s a compliment.″

The Kendricks - he’s a retired high school industrial arts teacher; she’s a retired Bank of America vice president - were thrilled by the New England foliage, awed by Plymouth Rock, impressed by monumental Washington.

But they gave up trying to see the sights and sat in their hotel room last weekend, watching the spectacle of Anita Hill vs. Clarence Thomas. They had trouble deciding who had told the truth.

The Longs, he a manager at an electronics firm, she an engineer researcher, split along the same lines.

He: ″The natural ability to communicate between men and women is going to be put in jeopardy. Things can easily be misconstrued as misconduct. ... I’m not sure I could run for public office - I’m an aggressive manager and some of the things I’ve said to women could be brought up as sexual abuse.″

She: ″I’ve worked 25 years in a male-dominated field. I’ve had to overlook things that have been said to me. I know I could have made a case. I’ve just had to understand where that person is coming from.″

The Longs, the only blacks among the interviewed visitors, said they would vote against Thomas regardless of Ms. Hill’s charges. They said he was too far removed from the shadow cast by Thurgood Marshall, the first black Supreme Court justice. Thomas would be the second.

Zygmunt Stachon - ″it’s a Polish name, but I’m an American″ - said he tended to believe Ms. Hill’s charges and to question Thomas’ fitness to serve. But, still, he said, ″in my mind sexual harassment is a charge that’s easy to make and difficult to refute.″

Was Mrs. Stachon shocked by the language used at the hearings?

She laughed: ″I’m a registered nurse.″

He: ″You know they’re saying there’s something wrong with the process. But the process worked. It allowed us to examine the character of this man, how he behaved under pressure. I think he flunked.″

She: ″Anita Hill was a credible witness, because this sort of thing does happen. I was subjected to harassment at work many years ago. I don’t know if men don’t understand, or don’t want to understand.″

The nominee got some understanding from the Phalens.

He: ″If he did ask her for a date, he wouldn’t have used that type of language. He was smart enough to know it would turn her off.″

She: ″I felt sorry for Thomas. It just ruined his whole life, really.″

Give the last word to Leone Kendrick. She had something nice to say about the senators. To her, they seemed sincere. She said she listened to Sen. Robert Byrd’s impassioned speech about Ms. Hill’s testimony and was moved. Byrd had said, ″I watched her on that screen. I did not see the knotted brow of Satanic revenge.″

″He wavered me,″ she said. ″I’m just glad I’m not the one to make the decision.″

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